Arts notebook

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The election approaches and with it three slim volumes from Penguin, each espousing the cause of the major parties. To be published on 17 February, Why Vote Labour? ditto Conservative and ditto Lib Dem they all have the backing of the party leaders. I opened my advance copies with a frisson of anticipation as to how the cultural policies of the parties would differ.

My first evening is spent curled up in bed with David Willetts MP and the Conservative case. I waded through such predictable chapter headings as "The Free Market", "Schools: Choice or Uniformity" and the artily inverted "Order and Law". But of art itself, no mention. Typically Tory, I sighed. For all Mrs Bottomley's fine words, a cultural cop-out.

Next I turned to Labour and Tony Wright MP, whose writings have been described by Tony Blair as "a route map for New Labour". A section on "A Civic Vision" must surely include a cultural vision. But Mr Wright's civic vision is that "this election is about fundamentals. From health to welfare, jobs to education, crime to the constitution." The artistic fundamentals do not make it into the 111-page statement.

And so to the Lib Dems and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. A chapter entitled "The Quality of Our Society" causes the heart to skip a beat. Here at last culture must rear its neglected head. Well up to a point, Lord Wallace. He has a bee in his bonnet. But it's not a bee one generally hears when two or more theatregoers are gathered together. He writes: "Lib Dems regard the piecemeal selling off of the historic buildings of the crown estate in Whitehall... as beyond reasonable justification."

So there it is. The actual manifestos are yet to come. But the three intellectual treatises contain effectively nothing about the arts. Sir Richard Eyre, director of the National Theatre, opined recently that the parties seem to view the arts as a four-letter word. Worse, it is a word that has not even entered their vocabulary.

Suzanne Vega, American chanteuse, said this week that her new album Nine Objects of Desire had caused some friction between herself and her husband, record producer Mitchell Froom. Aside from his complaining, with reference to her honeymoon song, that he would have preferred the sexy songs to be about him and the funny ones about someone else, there were also arguments when he demanded to know what certain of her more enigmatic compositions were actually about. Suzanne Vega explains: "I mean, as my husband I suppose he has a right to know, but as my producer he really doesn't." Shouldn't that be the other way around.

Next Wednesday at the Royal Festival Hall the BBC Symphony Orchestra performs the world premiere of Diana Burrell's new work Symphonies of Flocks, Herds and Shoals. Reflecting her passion for the sights and sounds of the natural world, the 49-year-old composer promises musical references to birdsong, the herd instincts of animals, and even "the darting movements of fishes". I asked Diana Burrell how she conveys a flock of birds in flight in orchestral terms. She did not even pause for breath. "Flocks - music of brightness and clarity. Air. Intellect. Complex patterns. Wheeling. Circling. Covering large distances. Fast, glittering scherzo." Perhaps with a touch of engine-noise vibrato for the sponsor - Land Rover.

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